Two Truths & A Lie scene exercise

Objective: To build scenes by exploring and heightening committed perspectives.

Either you’ve played Two Truths & A Lie before in your life or you didn’t go to middle school.  It’s a “get to know you” activity in which a person says three statements about themselves, two of which are true and one of which is a lie.  Here’s a personal example:
1. I can’t wink with my right eye.
2. I am an only child.
3. I have broken two different bones because of two different dogs.

Which one’s the lie?  If you guessed Number 2, you’re right!  I’m the middle of five children.  Winners can click here to watch my favorite video!

Here’s another example:
1. I think crosswords are lots of fun.
2. I believe ideologies are a poor substitute for critical thinking.
3. I feel bad for reality show stars.

Notice a difference between the first and second set of statements?  Hopefully it was immediately clear to you that the second set represented perspectives: things I think, believe and feel.  Do you think I care about any of the statements in the first set?  You know I care about the statements in the second set.

Caring is critical to improv as improv does best.  When we address things we care about we bring emotion to them.  When we share what we care about the audience engages with us.  And when we commit to what we care about there are stakes.

We can work too hard at the top of scenes, struggling to create a story, a situation, circumstances with our initiation.  Knowing we are supposed to care, we’ll emote like soap opera actors around crazy facts.  Despite what resultant characters project, the audience sees the improviser underneath feeling scared as they scramble to figure out what the scene’s about.

By contrast, the sooner we establish something our character is emotionally invested in, the sooner we can…just continue investing emotionally.  If we start with a belief, we can just keep espousing that belief (for better or worse, think of political conversations in which believers don’t explain their belief but rather just keep saying what they believe).

Remember: Our “What” is emotional reactions to active elements. Commitment and repetition are the only “why” we need.  

This exercise is about starting scenes rooted in a belief.  And the fun is being forced to commit to a belief you don’t believe.

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Two Truths & A Lie: A player gets on stage in front of the group and provides three statements, two of which are true to them personally, one of which is not true to them personally.  All three statements must be rooted in something they care about (or are lying about caring about); “I think,” “I believe,” and “I feel” are good statement starters to think about but they are not mandatory statement starters.  The group then gets to guess which one of the statements is the lie.  The group member who correctly guesses the answer gets to join the player on stage and do a two person scene.  The initiating player must commit to believing their lie.  The second player should agree with that perspective, either mirroring the perspective or adopting a complementary perspective (“You love Harry Potter books; I love the Twilight series”).  When the scene is done, have a new player take the stage to provide two truths and a lie, then repeat the exercise.  And so on and so forth.
Lessons:
•  Avoid the negative by making the negative positive. We tend in life to be more comfortable expounding on why we hate what we hate than sharing why we love what we love.  We tend on stage to drive toward conflict and negative emotions because that feels safer than being vulnerable.  In this exercise – forced to believe what you personally don’t believe – you can turn your negative feelings positive.  For example, Lie: “I prefer turkey bacon to regular bacon” – “Yum, nothing like flaccid, pink meat strips.”
•  Improvising by investing in emotional perspectives is easier than creating a satisfying story in the moment.  It might feel more “natural” to think about story, conflict and problems because our minds are hung up on what we see in TV and movies.  But you’re working too hard and missing out on how improv can be better than TV and movies.  Investing in an emotional perspective – especially committing to a perspective that flips the status quo – is crazy…and crazy fun for the audience to watch.
•  Conflict is okay, but don’t get lost in it.  Maybe, despite initial agreement, you’ll feel a very natural impulse to disagree with your scene partner at some point.  That’s fine.  But remember, two players building in the same direction will go farther than two players building in direct opposition.  Force yourself into agreement and leverage the fun of collaborative building.

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